Nowhere Farm

Here is a snippet from my essay on Over the Rhine I gave a few months ago at a conference at Princeton Seminary.

Music as Subversion

Before concluding, let me return briefly to one of the themes I explored earlier: the subversiveness of Over the Rhine’s music. Here I want to go back to where I began this paper—that hidden and elusive place Karin and Linford call home: Nowhere Farm.

Calling their home “Nowhere Farm” is more a statement about how they live than where they live. Karin and Linford’s life and the music that is inseparable from it are, I want to suggest, a parable about “place.” Living out their unique artistic vocation, they are “out of place,” out of sync with a world that lives chained to the credentials of both achievement and failure. It is not insignificant that Karin and Linford title their live albums “Live from Nowhere.” To encounter their music is, as I have suggested, to have one’s own place transformed into no-place; it is to experience a glimmer of that newness, that laughter amid tears that can come only as a gift from outside of our efforts to construct and manage “place.”

It is this overturning of “place” that makes Over the Rhine’s music subversive and therefore worth listening to deeply. What it subverts is our ceaseless attempts to possess ourselves, to place ourselves over against one another in self-assertion. Such a posture is a fundamental refusal of gratitude, a refusal to receive one’s life ever anew as a gift. To live out of gratitude, by contrast, is to refuse instead the very idea of “place,” and so it is to exist Nowhere, suspended in the anarchy of God’s grace. It is, we might say, to inhabit eschatological space. Barth therefore writes:

“The artist’s work is homeless in the deepest sense…Art does not come within the sphere of our work as creatures or our work as sinners saved by grace. As pure play it relates to redemption. Hence it is at root a nonpractical and lonely action. It belongs to the empty sphere of the uncontrollable future in the present.”

Nowhere Farm and its moveable variations exist within this “empty sphere.” Over the Rhine’s music transforms any given place into Nowhere by holding it open to the gifting of God. And indeed, Karin and Linford have received countless testimonies that their music has been invited into the most intimate and meaningful moments of their fan’s lives—marriage, birth, death—those moments when life is being “unsaid” so that it might be spoken anew. This is the gesture of “surrender” that is repeated in nearly every moment of their music. Their music has no agenda; they are not aiming to construct a place for themselves, either in the music industry or in the currents of popular culture. “You need questions/Forget about the answers” they tell us. Their music resists closure and location because life itself resists closure and location, especially if lived honestly before God.

St. Francis and Begging

I gave a short lecture in the God, Economy, and Poverty class at Vanderbilt yesterday. Here is the manuscript.

Most of us know about St. Francis of Assisi because of the little statues of him that occupy our gardens. He is usually standing in an unassuming posture, gently holding a bird, gazing at it lovingly. There are all sorts of stories about St Francis and animals, about how he cared for the smallest of them, how they loved him and followed him around while he ministered, about how he took the command at the end of the Gospel of Mark seriously: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” In the Catholic Church, St. Francis is the patron saint of animals and the environment.

I want to suggest, however, that St. Francis’ love for animals, for the small and innocent creatures of the earth, which could easily be sentimentalized, is but one manifestation of a life totally given over to works of love for all who are small, all who are poor, all who lack possessions like the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. I want to suggest that St. Francis surrounded himself with animals because he saw in them in them a vision of the poverty of God, a freedom for life not dependent on possessions, a freedom that lives by giving and receiving, rather than by possessing.

What this means and how it relates to our concerns in this class I hope to make clear in what follows.

1. Who was St. Francis?

St. Francis of Assisi was a Catholic friar who lived at the end of the eleventh century into the beginning of the twelfth century (1181/2—1226). He was the son of a wealthy Italian clothing merchant, and he founded the Franciscan Order of friars who are know for their commitment to voluntary poverty. He also assisted in founding the woman’s Order of St. Claire, and he founded a lay order called the Third Order of St. Francis.

As a youngster, St. Francis had a taste for a life of privilege, and hoped to make a living as a knight. For various reasons, he abandoned this path and committed himself instead to a life with and for the poor. Various stories are told about Francis’ conversion to a life of poverty. All of them involve in one way or another his encounter with Jesus’ calls in the Gospels to reject wealth and possessions and spend oneself on the poor. Francis’ conversion, moreover, was not simply an act of personal piety. Francis came to love the poor; he came to understand his life as inconceivable apart from a commitment to poverty. When asked if he would ever marry, he said that he had found a bride more lovely than any woman. Her name was “Lady Poverty.

So Francis spent his life organizing and re-organizing religious orders whose aim was to proclaim the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, by living a life beyond the quest for possessions and riches.

2. St. Francis’ Voluntary Begging

The hallmark of St. Francis’ commitment to life with and for the poor is the practice of voluntary begging. Voluntary begging, for Francis, is the act of intentionally and publically relying on the charity of others for the sake of one’s livelihood. Voluntary beggars in the Franciscan sense pursue begging not as a form self-flagellation or personal deprivation, but actually as a mode of the good life. For St. Francis, voluntary begging is not a personal or private decision to promote his own holiness; through his begging he is commending and proclaiming the possibility of a certain way of organizing public, social life. It is incredibly difficult for us with our moral and economic assumptions to get our minds around this, but let me try to help.

It is crucial to know the social and economic context of St. Francis’s life. He lived at the tail-end of the eleventh century and the beginning of the twelfth. In the eleventh century, Europe was experiencing the rapid emergence of a new money or market economy. As the international trade industry began to grow, one’s livelihood and wealth became increasingly divorced from land, heredity, tradition, custom, and even work. Economy became increasingly detached from these “on the ground” realities and was handed over instead to the self-regulating market, the ultimate goal of which was to produce not actual, material goods for human beings, but rather this ethereal thing we call “money.” Society and economics became increasingly detached from a moral vision, and were instead allowed to regulate themselves by way of the sheer pursuit of “money.”

We have to understand Francis’ act of voluntary begging as a subversion of this emerging money economy. Francis was acutely aware that a society based on the sheer pursuit of wealth as money is deeply de-human. In such a society people themselves become increasingly invisible, becoming simply means to the end of economic wealth.  The poor especially become invisible. They become unthinkable in a money economy. We no longer have obligations to them. Francis’s practice of begging is a public act of binding himself to the poor in protest of this invisibility of the poor. Francis even instructed his friars to abhor the actual physical entity of money. They were not allowed to touch it. They were called instead to bind themselves out of love to their physical neighbors.

Yet voluntary begging, for Francis, is not simply an act of protest. It is a positive witness to the possibility that society can be organized around gift rather than possession and gain. Begging, for Francis, was not about getting money to establish oneself in a market economy. It was about subverting the entire logic of a market economy in favor of an economy of gift or grace. Francis did not beg for money; as I said he abhorred the stuff. He begged instead for the means with which to undertake loving life with others—food, clothes, tools for working, animals, etc. (there is wonderful story about St. Francis and a sheep that I can’t go into here). Voluntary begging, for Francis, is meant to instigate cycles of public, shared gift-giving. The goal of voluntary begging is not to denigrate work or exchange, but to set these practices within a context of generosity, gift, forgiveness, friendship, and freedom. What holds society together is not the raw pursuit of money, but loving attention to one’s neighbor, whoever they be.

There is a famous episode from Francis’ life: Having angered his father (the clothing merchant) by giving away the proceeds from a sale, Francis took off all his clothes in the public square and gave them to his father, who of course remained quite angry. Without needing to speak, to say a word, this public act called forth charity, as it is said that the bishop went to Francis and covered him with his own robe. Francis’ poverty here is about publically calling for the act of gift-giving, which alone constitutes the possibility of a humane society. (This, by the way, is the context for the statement, sometimes attributed to Francis, preach at all times, if necessary use words.)

3. Theological Vision

Let me conclude by asking, what theological vision underlies this way of acting in the world?

The meaning of life, Christians have always said in one way or another, is friendship with God. To be a creature is to be summoned to live the life of God, to become godlike, to be sanctified as some say, or as others say, to be deified. If we take St. Francis’ life of poverty as an icon of friendship with God, perhaps we can say the following, which is something I hinted at earlier. What makes God to be God is that God is poor. God has no possessions, because God is sheer life, sheer self-giving Love. To be God is to have life only in the act throwing Godself away in Love. God creates not to possess us, but to free us for friendship with God and each other. In Jesus we find God binding Godself to the poor, so that God can teach us all how to become poor, how to live without possessions, for the sake of life.

And so to become Godlike means to renounces one’s possessions for the sake of giving life to others. It does not mean that we condescend to the poor, hoping to bring them up to our more acceptable level simply by giving them possessions. It means that we bind ourselves to the poor, becoming poor ourselves, in order to discover what it means to live in the way of love.

This, I take it, is the witness of St. Francis.

Behold!

A sermon I preached this past Sunday @ Megan’s and my Nashville church home, Blakemore Church of the Nazarene. The text was John 1:1-9; 29-42:

Epiphany. It means “manifestation,” or “appearance,” or “shining.”  To celebrate epiphany in the church is to be turned toward the world with a message, with a word of good news about the appearance or shining of God in the world. Behold! says our text this morning. Or if you like, Look! If in Advent we wait for the coming of Jesus, if at Christmas we receive Jesus as Emmanuel, God With Us, during Epiphany we are given over to the task of proclaiming to the world what the coming of God means, that Light has shown in our darkness, that salvation has come to our world, that the glory of God is revealed in the face of this unlikely man, Jesus. Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Yes, this is what Epiphany is about, not about hoarding the gift of God for ourselves, like one more Christmas trinket or toy, as if the Gospel were something handed over to us, with a gift receipt and the option of returning it. Jesus does not come to us like that, like a flashlight put in our hands we can either decide to shine or not. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light it says of John the Baptist, and therefore of us, who are called to be nothing more and nothing less than witnesses to Jesus, the Light. To hear the good news about Jesus is more like being awakened from a bad dream by a fellow witness: Hey, its light outside, get up and go out! In Epiphany we are sent out to meet the Light breaking into the darkness, sent like John the Baptist in our text this morning, with words of astonishment, with blinkered eyes straining to get used to the Light. Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. This is what I must say to you this morning: Behold! Look! Its light outside, get up and go out!

And yet, what a strange light this is! This poor, despised peasant, this one born to an obscure Jewish family, this one who committed himself to a life with the miserable and forgotten, this one whose life ended in what we can only call failure; he is the light of the world? The light of the glory of God shines here? In this man’s disfigured face? Do we really believe this? How can we believe this? How can you believe that the Word that created the world is this crucified One, this lamb led to the slaughter? How can you believe that the light of the world is a life that ended in darkness? On what basis do we proclaim to the world that its light, that its salvation is this man, Jesus? Why did you come to church this morning? Why do we come at all? Friends, the only possible answer to these questions is that we have been given to hear the news that this Jesus has been raised from the dead. We gather in belief only because God has acted decisively in this world by raising Jesus. Apart from this act of God, there is no light! Apart from the resurrection of this One, what we do here each Sunday is rather unimpressive and irrelevant, at best an enjoyable social hour, at worst a delusional gathering. Make no mistake, friends, to follow Jesus is to throw oneself utterly on the mercy and power of God, to hope only in resurrection. It is to follow one who plunged himself into the world’s darkness, who took upon himself the darkness that haunts the corners of our world we refuse to acknowledge, who so gave himself over to the brokenness of the world, that it broke him, crushed him. And so the question comes again: what a strange light! So different from every other light we know! How can it be, we must ask, that this broken One is the light of the world?

Our text this morning answers with one little word: Behold! So much spoken in one little word! It is a word of surprise, of astonishment. It is a word that directs us to something we didn’t and couldn’t expect: Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Ah! Here we begin to see. This crucified One is the light of the world, the light of each of us, because in his self-abandonment to the darkness he takes away our sin—he refuses our refusal of the love of God by refusing to leave us alone in our darkness. He binds himself to us, to each of us, taking over responsibility for us. This is what was happening in the life of this poor peasant, Jesus, and happens now as this poor peasant continues to live among us, giving himself to us! He has taken and is taking away our sin! Where does he take it? He takes it into himself. This is what it means that Jesus is the Lamb of God. He stands in our place, sacrificed for us, taking the brokenness of the world into himself so that it breaks him and not us. Once again the mystery emerges. This light shines only by taking on darkness; our sin is taken away from us only because there is One, this Jesus, who embraces it more fully than we do, who owns up to our wickedness and brokenness as we deny it and makes it fully his own. Friends, don’t miss this! Here is the Gospel! Here is a Love so intense, so self-giving, so committed that it goes to the very end, throwing itself away in order to love us, in order to love each of us, to shine light on our dark faces, to say to each us, you, yes you! are precious to me, loved more than you could ever understand. The mystery is that Jesus plunges himself into the very depths of darkness in order to find us there, in order to break open the darkness that haunts us to the healing light of God. Here is the supreme enactment of God’s freedom, of what it means to be God. Here we encounter the very mystery of God in Jesus. To be God is to be free to go where God is forgotten, insulted, denied, and ignored in order to shine there the Light of freedom and life. Behold! The darkness has been broken. Light has been poured in! Jesus is risen!

Let me be as direct as possible. Our text says that John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him, and that this caused him to exclaim Behold! The Lamb of God! Brothers and sisters, Jesus is risen, and so he comes toward you, even today, even this very hour. Behold! And he comes to you precisely where the darkness in your life threatens to overwhelm you. What darkness haunts you? What sin do you bear? What shame or guilt afflicts you? What suffering oppresses you? Jesus is there, already there, coming to you!

Perhaps it is the darkness of loneliness, that gnawing anxiety over the possibility of being alone in the world, forgotten by God, overlooked among the millions and millions that surround you. What a lonely and dark world we live in! All of us together and with each other so lonely! And all the things we do to try to escape loneliness! We work, we play, we seek amusement, sport, drink, sex, love, fame, accomplishment, beauty. Does it work? Maybe. For a little while. But none of these things can finally undo the anxiety that lives deep within each of us. For what is loneliness but that innate sense within each of us that knows that we all stand before death and must face it alone? Who or what can rescue us from that?

To the lonely the Light of God has come and comes this very hour: Behold! Jesus Christ became lonely, forsaken by God and the human race so that you, yes you! would never be lonely. Over against the darkness that encloses each of us within ourselves, there is One who has plumbed the depths of loneliness with the light of God and who now lives to ask about every person and who unendingly takes every person seriously, who takes infinite interest in who you are and what you do in life as the particular human being you are. No one is forgotten in the light of God that shines in the face of Jesus. No one is left alone.

Perhaps the darkness of poverty encompasses you—unable to find work, or forced to do work you would rather not do, unable to meet your own or your family’s needs, unable to feel dignity and importance, unable to have a voice, unable to see a future. Or perhaps the false light of affluence blinds you to the poor and so creates yet more darkness, the darkness of complacency, of greed, of superiority, robbing you of the freedom to give yourself away in love. Friends, the darkness of poverty is all around us, if only we had the ears to hear—those crying out for bread, for dignity, for companionship, for hope, for freedom from powers that give death instead of life.

To the poor the Light of God has come and comes this very hour: Behold! God has become poor in Jesus so that the poor might be given life, so that the rich might be given life by being given the freedom to live with and for the poor. To say that that the Light of God shines among the poor is to say that to them is given a promise: the kingdom of God is for you. The Light of God shines first among you. The powers that hand you over to death in innumerable ways have themselves been handed over to death in Jesus Christ. And so those who wield those powers are free to abandon them and join you in waiting and praying and hoping for kingdom of God. Friends, the Light of God means freedom for the poor, freedom to be poor as a brother or sister of that poor one in whom there is the fullness of grace and truth: Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the darkness of despair covers you like a thick blanket—despair over sin, despair over the future, despair over the welfare of loved ones, despair that a life of joy could ever be possible. When you look into the future what do you see? The possibility of a life lived in freedom? Of a life full of love? Of projects that fill you with hope and joy? Or do you see only darkness? Does the future open before you as possibility or does the future open as emptiness, as simply more of the same? Do you feel trapped in sin? Trapped in shame? Just trapped?

To those in despair the Light of God has come and comes this very hour. Behold! The Light of God in Jesus Christ has come to set you free and to give you hope. If we look at the world or at ourselves only with a human gaze, yes, it is true, there is every reason to despair. For what are we but miserable sinners! And what is the world but a large collection of miserable sinners! Ah, but we have not been left alone with ourselves in the darkness we have created! God has come to us and wants to set us free; God has set us free in Jesus! Whatever you despair over, know that God takes it to heart, that God is with you, making a way in the wilderness. Your circumstances might not change immediately, but everything can become new, if only you would see the Light of God that shines in Jesus. In him there is possibility; he is hope.

Hear the Word of God this morning, friends! The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it! Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, he is among us, even this very hour, calling us to himself in order to give us his Light.

Let me conclude by returning once again to think about this season, Epiphany. I said that to celebrate Epiphany in the church is to be turned toward the world as a witness to the Light. This turning to the world, I want to emphasize, simply is the freedom we are given in the Light of God. When the light of God penetrates our lives and hearts we find ourselves no longer afraid of darkness, no longer concerned only with ourselves, with securing ourselves and our interests. When we are taken into the light of God we find ourselves, like God, free to plunge ourselves into the darkness, free to give ourselves. God gives us the freedom to go into the darkness in order to wait and pray for the Light with expectancy, with hope.

So Epiphany means this: Go into the darkness of loneliness, as a lonely one, go to the lonely and Behold! find there the Light of Christ freeing you for friendship and love. Find the face of Jesus in your lonely neighbor! Go into the darkness of poverty, as a poor one, go to the poor and Behold! find there the Light of Christ creating life and freedom and peace beyond and against the powers of death. Find the face of Jesus in your poor neighbor! Go into the darkness of despair, as a despairing one, go to those who despair and Behold! find there the Light of Christ, creating glimmers of joy and possibility. Find the face of Jesus in your despairing neighbor! Its light outside, get up and go out!

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Inception: A Kierkegaardian Reading

Yesterday Nathan and I caught an afternoon showing of Christopher Nolan’s new film, Inception. I absolutely loved it. It is the kind of movie that completely engrosses me. The cinematography was stunning, the acting was top notch, and the story was compelling. But most riveting, for me, is the fact that the movie raises a whole host of philosophical questions that utterly fascinate me: the nature of time and eternity, the nature of consciousness and memory, the battle between realism and idealism, the location and constitution of the “self,”  and a whole lot more. In fact, what is great about the film is that so many philosophical themes collide in it that it is impossible to give a single reading of either the film itself or even the philosophical questions it poses. The movie itself asks us: where does the reality of this film reside, “in” the movie itself, in some objective content we passively receive as we sit in the theater, or is the reality of the film instead located in what our minds make of it? Is the movie itself an “inception,” a planting of an idea in our minds that is real only as we make it real?

I have been immersing myself in Kierkegaard lately because I am in the middle of writing my dissertation for my Edinburgh degree. So I was prepped to read the film in a Kierkegaardian way. I thought I would offer a few comments along these lines, fully aware that these are not at all a definitive reading of the film, if such a thing is even possible. I am supposed to be translating French right now, but these thoughts about the movie keep distracting me, so I thought I would let them out.

1) The film itself uses Kierkegaardian language and concepts throughout: “paradox” and  “leap of faith” are the most central of these. From one angle, the entire film asks: “Is a leap of faith possible? Can the gulf that separates us from our true selves be bridged?”

2) Cobb’s relationship to his wife echoes many of the themes raised in Kierkegaard’s relationship to his ex-fiancee, Regine Olsen. How does one continue to live with such a profound rupture in the relationship to one’s beloved? Is one’s recollection of that relationship enough? Can one truly recollect reality? Or is recollection always an idealized creation of one’s mind? Isn’t it true that authentic love can never be a recollection but only a repetition? A repetition that requires the present reality of the person?

3) The whole issue of “inception,” that is, whether an idea can be implanted in someone’s consciousness, can be read as a wrestling with the Kierkegaardian theme of “inwardness.” For Kierkegaard, true movement in life can never be the result of external necessity but only of inward passion and freedom. One must move oneself in the moment of free decision to move at all.

4) The way the film portrays time is very Kierkegaardian. Time doesn’t work like Aristotle thought it did, that is, as the incessant marching forward of equally spaced moments called seconds, or minutes, or hours, or years, or…Time is, rather, the space of existential movement. There are different “levels” of time, and time moves at different speeds in different circumstances. The different “levels” of dreaming in the movie portray this in a profound way. The deeper one goes into dreaming (into reality? out of reality?), the “faster” time moves; as one emerges out of dreaming (out of reality? into reality?), the “slower” time moves. In Kierkegaard’s terminology, when one acts from the depths of inward passion, time speeds up, life intensifies; when one simply floats along with the external world, time slows down, life becomes stagnant.

5) Is entrance into the deepest level of dreaming entrance into eternity? If so, then in the film we have a Kierkegaardian vision of eternity not as the cancelation of time but as an infinite intensification of time. Our time, what we think of as “reality,” is in fact a slowing down of eternity. Eternity relates to time then, in “the Moment.” Eternity cannot extend itself on our timeline because our timeline is too slow. We encounter eternity “in the twinkling of the eye,” when everything is suddenly changed by the intensity of eternity.

6) The end of the movie concentrates the question: “Is a leap of faith possible?” That is, can one gain back, i.e., repeat, one’s world–in Cobb’s case, his children–by letting go of the idealized visions of reality we hold to and letting oneself fall into the void that hopefully turns out to be our salvation? Was Cobb able to do this? Is the end of the movie a genuine return, i.e., a repetition, of his children, or is it yet a deeper level of dreaming? But what if dreaming is actually what is most real?

Ten more.

1. I am in Birmingham, Alabama right now.

2.  I am visiting my BFF Rachel.

3.  She lives in a house with three other girls, and it makes me sorta miss my days when I lived with girls.

4.  Peter is a pretty good roommate, though.  Especially when I ask him to do something that he likes.

5.  Sometimes he takes a long time to do things that he doesn’t like.

6.  I think most men are like that.

7.  Most women will just do what needs to be done.

8.  It’s one of the many reasons we are superior.

9.  That and the whole we-alone-can-be-vessels-for-new-human-life thing.

10.  Maybe if I write in tens, then this blog this won’t seem so daunting.

Ten on Tuesday

I’m suffering some major writer’s block.  Actually, just some major block block.  I’m wondering if this blog is more trouble than it’s worth.  I’m wondering the same thing about life.

But, in an effort to ignore and suppress the negative, I’ve decided to give these little things a try again.  So, for anyone out there still reading, here’s to you.

Courtesy of RootsAndRings.

1. What is the worst movie you have ever seen?

Once, a good friend and mentor of mine took me to Blockbuster and told me to pick out a movie.  For a reason I can not remember, I selected “Shipping News.”  There is a scene where a woman poops on her mother’s grave.

Enough said.

2. Do you have a favorite Disney/Pixar film?

My favorite animated Disney film has always been “Beauty and the Beast.”  Pixar just keeps out-doing themselves.  I love them all.  “Wall-E”?  Are you kidding me with this?  And “Up”?  I can’t even think about it without tearing up a little.

I still haven’t seen “Toy Story 3″ because I don’t think I can take the emotional toll it will inevitably have on me.

3. Do you have a favorite movie from the 80′s?

“Girls Just Want to Have Fun” with SJP.  Before she was SJP.  And Helen Hunt.  Before she was mad about anyone.

4. Are there any movies you saw more than once in the theater?

I saw “Titanic” way more than I wanted to or should have.  People is my posse at the time went ballistic over the movie, and I just kept watching.  Does anyone really need to see Leo’s sweaty hand slide down that window more than once?  Answer: no.

5. What is one city/area of the US (or country you live if you do not live in the US) that you have not seen but would like to see?

It’s hard to pick one.  I’d say San Francisco, Portland, and Boston are high up on the priority list.  But I’d  go anywhere at any time.  It’s a symptom of the wanderlust that infects me.

6. What are your favorite toppings on an Ice Cream Sundae?

Almost anything chocolate.  Hot fudge.  Brownie chunks.  Chocolate chips.  Oreos.

7. How many proms did you go to? What color was your prom dress? If you went to multiple proms, what color was your favorite prom dress?

I went to four proms.  Peter thought that this meant I was cool until I told him the breakdown.  So, in full awareness that this may lessen my social rank in your eyes, O reader, here goes.  I went as a junior with a senior.  I went to two senior proms (mine and his) with my best bud, Scott, when I was a senior.  I liked that dress the best.  It was white and silver and was a sheath that showed off my awesome high school bod.  Also, I had the most fun at Scott’s prom.  I think we were at the actual prom for about twenty minutes.  But we were with an awesome group of people, we had dinner prepared for us by another group of awesome people, and we spent the whole weekend having fun together.

The fourth prom was when I was a freshman in college.  I went with a younger friend from high school.

Yup.

8. Is there a sport or extra-curricular activity that you didn’t get to try as a child that you wish you would have? (e.g. gymnastics, piano lessons, ballet, etc.)

I don’t know.  Sometimes I wish I had done figure skating or soccer or something.  Other times, I wish I had just gotten to rest more.

9. How many siblings do you have? Are you the oldest, middle, or youngest?

I have an older sister.  That would make me the youngest.

I also have a ba-jillion in-laws.  I’m the third oldest of all of them.

I like all of these people a lot.

10. Do you feel like you fit in with your age group? Or do you feel younger/older than your age group?

I don’t know how to answer this.  I feel old most of the time.  At the same time, I feel like all my peers are passing me by in other important ways.  For instance, I don’t feel ready to be a mother, and all these young whipper-snappers keep getting knocked up all around me.  It always feels sort of strange to see people my age being parents or pastors or whatever.  There’s even a girl I know my age running for office.  It all feels very fraudulent, like we’re hijacking the system when we don’t have a clue what we’re doing.

But I guess this has always been the case and time keeps marching forward…

Shopping with ZZ Top

I just returned from an afternoon of Nashville-exploration, and I stumbled upon a shop that makes incredible (and incredibly expensive) jeans.  There was a fancy black Town Car out front, and I was hoping to hobnob with some rich Nashvillians.  I walked in, shook the hand of the owner, started to babble about living in Scotland, and noticed a skinny, bearded fellow heading toward the door.  The owner paused me mid-sentence with an urgent look.  “Thanks, Billy,” he said to the bearded man.  “See you next week.”  The man smiled and offered a coolly raised hand.

It was this guy.

(Source).

I’ve had a few run-ins with famous or quasi-famous people, and I always seem to act like a babbling buffoon in their presence.  What is it about famous people that does this to us?  For me, I think it’s the residual damage that the “popular kids” inflicted upon me in junior high and high school (or, more accurately, the residual damage that my own perception and fear left behind).  I become overwhelmed at the prospect that this person will or will not like me– I’m not sure which I would prefer– and I am paralyzed in the face of potential rejection.  I say stupid sentences that would never otherwise depart from my lips.  Or my body betrays me with its’ fight/flight response, and I start to sweat or shake or hyperventilate.  Once, I even cried when speaking with someone who, in reality, is not all that famous, but who, to me, was basically Paul McCartney.  I pulled an abrupt about-face and left with my shredded dignity trailing behind.

Living in Scotland was a lot like living each day in the face of an in-crowd for whom I would forever remain on the outside.  I could speak the language well enough to get by and be relatively well understood, but I would never be mistaken for a local.  I betrayed myself as an outsider the minute I spoke a word.  It wasn’t that the Scots hated me or openly discriminated against me because of my nationality, but it was obvious that I would never be “in.”  The same could be said of the way I dressed, the way I carried myself, or even the type of food I purchased from a grocery store.  I was not, nor could I ever be, totally in.

This sort of daily exposure to one’s otherness is bound to have a lasting effect.  On me, this effect has taken the form of a perpetual paralysis in the face of possible rejection.  The time has come for me to get serious about figuring out what I’m going to be doing in Nashville, and every time that realization sets in, a wave a nausea accompanies it.  ‘What if the problem wasn’t Scotland?,’ the fearful voice inside me asks.  ‘What if the problem is me?!’  What if I never get a job, what if I wasted three years worth of time/energy/money in seminary, what if I have always been wrong about my talents and abilities and sense of “calling”?

And in the most desperate moments, that fearful voice turns all teenaged-angsty-melodramatic on me and asks, ‘What if God doesn’t even exist?’

But today, faithful and true day that the Lord has made, I was finally able to face this fear, embodied in the bearded face of Mr. Billy Gibbons, without utter catastrophic results.  I did not sweat or shake or cry.  Instead, I casually turned away and started looking at the overpriced jeans.

Maybe I’m going to survive after all.  Thanks for the lesson, Billy.